Saturday, 26 January 2008

R.I.P. Audio Tapes?

Is the backbone of the TEFL classroom, the trusty audio tape, reaching the end of it's life? How many times have teachers run around the staff room, frantically trying to find the right tape - New Pre-Int, Workbook, Tape 3, and then when they do, frantically trying to find the right spot - Module 12, Track 6.1, Speaker A - 1..... argh!

Well technology is here to the rescue! How many of your friends still listen to music on cassette? Not many? So why is the TEFL industry so behind? It's easy to see the progression that will take place with most materials being released on CD nowadays (although it is still possible to buy the tapes from some publishers!)... it's only a matter of time before they release downloadable MP3 versions. Publishers however, seem to be wary of producing MP3 versions of their materials and I wonder why when the music industry, with far more to lose, is diving in head first.

There are numerous benefits to having your TEFL audio library on MP3:
- ease of finding the right recordings - no more hunting for that missing tape
- ease of finding the right track on the recording - no more cueing
- security and reliability - a master version would always be on the system so no worrying about originals getting lost
- dramatically improved sound quality
- portability - with each teacher having an mp3 player, they could simply "plug-in" to speakers in the classroom - no more worrying if the room you're going to teach in has either a tape or cd player, or both.

There are a range of programmes that can intelligently record from audio tape to MP3, automatically recognising the track breaks and when the tape starts and stops. However,this must all be done in real-time making for a lengthy process to back-up that whole library. Perhaps pressure should be put on the publishers to produce their library in MP3 format for schools to download?

I'm going to do a bit of research with the publishers in the next few weeks to see what their take on this is. I don't think they will be able to avoid the issue for much longer, particularly as many are starting to produce IWB materials now, which carry audio mp3s. I imagine they will adopt a similar approach to the music industry using Digital Rights Management and perhaps limiting the number of players a track can be used on. It's something they have to deal with. For the time being though, I don't think we would be breaking any more laws by converting our resources to mp3 than we are by making back-up tape versions. I'll post their responses in due course.

Email me if you have any thoughts.


  1. Hi Robert. im looking for MP3 material to down load as I'll be teaching for a charity, but dont have a budget for material. Can you suggest any sites I can go to?

    Thanks steve

  2. Hi Steve

    Thanks for getting in touch. There is a huge range of material that is available for free. My suggestion is start with the trusted sites - BBC Learning English have a good range of new audio files, plus plenty of downloadable more self study material. The British Council Learn English Central also has loads of podcasts - some really good Ele level and business too. Other favourite sites of mine are and - both free and made for ELT. Let me know if you've already seen these ones and I'll try to recommend some more!